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January 2007
Anne Kennedy: A Tale of Giant Talent and Inspirational Teaching

ANNE KENNEDY, the English Department's Distinguished Visiting Writer for the Fall 2006 semester, was born in Wellington, Aotearoa /New Zealand and grew up there as the youngest child in a large Irish Catholic family. Anne has a background in music. She received a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Victoria University, and she is an Associate of Trinity College of London in Piano and Theory of Music. She also has a certificate in Journalism, and truly remarkable range—and distinction--as a writer, an editor, and a teacher of writing.

Anne Kennedy: Fall 06 Distinguished Visiting Writer
Anne Kennedy

For the past twenty years, Anne has worked as a screenwriter and editor. She is the author of screenplays for three feature films (CRUSH, THE MONKEY'S MASK and FOREVER), and of several short films, and she has worked closely with many film-makers as a screenplay editor, including with Niki Caro (the director of WHALERIDER).

Anne has been a fiction assessor for Radio New Zealand for twelve years now, and recently has been adapting books by other writers for Radio New Zealand.

Anne writes in a number of different genres, and the accolades that she has received speak to her success in each of them. She is the author of three novels (A BOY AND HIS UNCLE, MUSICA FICTA, and 100 TRADITIONAL SMILES), and received a large grant from the Creative New Zealand Literature Board for her fourth, a project on which she is now working. Her short fiction appears in many New Zealand literary anthologies and she also co-edits the on-line magazine, TROUT: A JOURNAL OF SOUTH PACIFIC ARTS. In 2004, Anne’s 2003 book of poetry, SING-SONG, won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. THE TIME OF THE GIANTS (2005), a narrative poem, was short-listed for this same highly prestigious award. Anne also has won or been short-listed for awards for screenplays, short stories, and for her novel 100 TRADITIONAL SMILES.

What each of Anne's projects share is her interest in challenging boundaries and definitions. Her writing is intellectually wide-ranging and particular, philosophical and wryly humorous, as in it she explores "…all you need to know/how every cell quivers" (THE TIME OF THE GIANTS). She is particularly interested in exploring questions of language in her work: at what point does language break down and relay different messages than the apparent ones? She also questions whether there is a definite line separating men and women and if so, what if we don't land firmly on either side of it? Her most recent book, THE TIME OF THE GIANTS, interrogates how we define size as well as gender and language as a giant woman tries to hide her height from a medium-sized man.

Anne's teaching demonstrates similar range and imagination. She has served as visiting writer to many classes in fiction and film, including Witi Ihimaera’s New Zealand Literature course at Auckland University. From 2000-2003, she was a Visiting Writer at Massey University, in Auckland, and ran workshops in life writing that refused the boundaries between prose and poetry.

For the Fall 2006 semester, as Visiting Distinguished Writer, Anne is teaching an undergraduate course on Autobiographical Writing, and a Graduate Fiction Workshop. Anne enjoys teaching from the different points of view each of these courses allow—the more composition-based perspective that the autobiography course requires, and the freer range afforded by the graduate course. Of her experience teaching at UHM, Anne says, "It has been a great opportunity to be part of such a vibrant and wonderful university. The students are great and I love teaching them—I have learned so much myself." She finds that the cross-section of cultures from which the students come make the classroom environment a rich one that gives her a window into local culture. She further finds that the students "have some great stories to tell, and great ways of telling them—their use of language is wonderful. Now people just have to go and read them."

Anne's students are as enthusiastic about her as she is about them. Undergraduate Marika Staff says, "Anne Kennedy inspires. She is compassionate, delicate, clever and receptive. Her classroom is an open and inviting atmosphere. She leads with a gentle though shrewd word, and always asks for the best from her students." MA student Chelsey Kojima concurs: "What makes Professor Kennedy’s class stand out for me is her sincere dedication to help her students succeed.  She has a strong desire to help students develop their own passions, voice, and style.  That is what makes her a truly great professor: her ability to see the best in all students." For PhD student Michelle Shin, "Prof. Kennedy is an exemplary teacher for a multitude of reasons, but especially due to her close attention to detail.  She both dissects stories and analyzes the various elements, plot, character, voice, etc. and covers abstract ideas and themes within a piece in order to achieve the best possible effect.  She is very resourceful and always gives us interesting essays or tips to read and assigns writing exercises that require us to get out of our personal writer bubbles and practice a range of techniques.  This class isn’t about catering to what you already know, it is about expanding that knowledge to produce the best possible writers that we can be."

As Michelle's comments indicate, as a teacher, Anne enriches her writing workshops with directed reading and analysis. A great believer in using writing exercises as a way to hone particular skills, she also insists that her students read broadly and deeply: "You can't be a writer without being a reader. Every writer I know is a voracious reader." Anne has designed her graduate course to ensure that what her students read will be relevant to them. In consultation with Anne, each student develops a tailored list of readings that both address her or his own particular aims and that also reflect contemporary approaches and possibilities. Anne finds that Hawaii literature by writers such as Rodney Morales and Gary Pak provides particularly important models for students.

It is not only Hawai'i literature that Anne appreciates. She and her husband Robert Sullivan (a faculty member in the UHM English Department since 2003), and their two children Temuera (age 13) and Eileen (age 10) enjoy living in Mānoa Valley and feeling themselves part of a community. As Anne explains, "I love the way there is a neighborhood existence going on around the university—the schools, the library, the university, the shopping, everything is in proximity, and it's nice to see the same people everyday—it's really a privilege." But as her neighbors, students, and colleagues would agree, the privilege belongs to those of us who are getting to know Anne Kennedy as a writer, teacher, and community member.